Monday, May 29, 2006

News

I am somewhat settled in my new temporary digs. Work is fine, but can't talk about it.

Here's some news items that have caught my eye in the last few weeks, (but I was busy getting ready for the deployment and did not have time to comment on them):

Washington Post May 15, 2006
On Baghdad Patrol, A Vigilant Eye On Iraqi Police

U.S.-Trained Allies Are Often Suspects
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post Foreign Service

BAGHDAD -- Second Lt. Will Shields started night patrol for his 2nd Platoon Delta Company with the Baghdad basics: a reminder to speed up instead of slow down if a bomb hits the convoy, and a heads-up on where to stash any victims of killings, sectarian and otherwise.

"We find any dead bodies, we've got three or four body bags," the 23-year-old Shields said.

"Hopefully, that'll be enough."

The young troops in his platoon briefly grumbled good-naturedly about whose Humvee always gets stuck hauling the corpses they find of equally young Iraqi men -- stiffened, blood-streaked and open-mouthed. Pretty much every day, U.S. and Iraqi troops are picking up apparent victims of Sunni-Shiite violence on the streets of Baghdad.

Since Feb. 22, when the bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra pushed sectarian tensions in Iraq to a new plateau, the U.S. Army units have quietly moved back into some neighborhoods that U.S. commanders had just turned over, with fanfare, to Iraqi security forces. Iraqi leaders asked for the return of the American troops into parts of central Baghdad in March, fearing that efforts to build a stable government would fall apart if they were unable to rein in the Shiite-Sunni killings, said Col. Jeffrey Snow, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division.

After fighting for nearly three years to put down an insurgency waged by Sunni Arabs, the Americans now are also dealing with a bloody Shiite-Sunni power struggle fought largely through intimidation and murder. Part civil war, with open battles in Baghdad's mixed southern neighborhood of Dora and the northern Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah, and part mob-style violence, with bodies being dumped out of cars that then speed away, the struggle plays out mostly beyond the view of U.S. soldiers.

Mystified Americans often are reduced to helping clear away the unidentified Iraqis left sprawled -- their tortured hands clutching the air or wired together behind their backs -- on curbs, sidewalks and garbage-strewn lots.

"It may be making a statement, and it may work for the Iraqi people, but we have a hell of a time figuring out what the statement is," Snow said.

The Americans' problems are compounded by the fact that the same Shiite-led Interior Ministry police forces they are training to protect Iraqis are widely suspected in the killings -- if not as the executioners, then as allies to the Shiite militias blamed for much of the bloodshed.

"No police allowed," a hand-painted banner declares in Adhamiyah, a middle-class quarter of homes and gardens behind high brick walls that is one of the largest Sunni districts in Baghdad. In clashes last month, Adhamiyah homeowners took up guns to fight off what they took to be Iraqi police, possibly backed by Shiite militias, trying to enter the barricaded neighborhood.

US troops are increasingly getting caught in the middle of gun battles as Iraqis quarrel with each other. Members of the Shiite-led Iraqi National Police, the force being trained to replace the US military are, in many occasions, engaged in sectarian feuds against the Sunni population. Of course, this is not exactly what we trained them to do. Is this America's fight? Or is this a fight older than America itself?

A competent and non-sectarian Iraqi police force is a necessary ingredient in ensuring a stable Iraq. Any drawdown of our forces in the country depends on how well the Iraqi police force performs its duties. Now it's no longer just a matter of how well we train them but, will they do the right things once they are out on the streets or will they just become another armed faction in the low-grade Iraqi civil war?

There is some good news. Occasionally you'll hear about successful operations entirely planned and led by Iraqi forces. But many US troops who have worked with Iraqis will tell you that, overall, they exhibit an astonishing combination of daring, ineptitude, commitment, and unlawfulness. It's very difficult to eradicate ineffectiveness and improper conduct from any police or armed force, but it will be very difficult to decrease our presence in Iraq given the current state of the Iraqi security forces.

Other things I've thinking about Iraq and the Middle East:

Speaking of building up:

Honolulu Advertiser May 14, 2006
Guam A Focal Point For U.S. Military Plans
By Richard Halloran

The Air Force is surging ahead with plans to revitalize its bases on Guam from which to project power into the skies over the western Pacific and the islands and continent of Asia.

Bombers already are stationed regularly at Guam's Andersen Air Force Base on rotation from the U.S. Mainland, as are aerial tankers essential to long range operations.

My buddy Eddie blogged about Guam earlier this month. On a personal note, I always try to find a scuba diving connection to everything, and I hear that Guam has excellent diving spots.

If the US Central Command (CENTCOM) is building up in certain key spots in the Middle East, the US Pacific Command (PACOM) is also building up in one key spot: Guam. Taking into account the "tyranny of distance", Guam is in an ideal position to maintain a robust military presence in the Pacific without the political implications of having large numbers of US troops stationed in Japan and South Korea. Although given the poor state of Guam's infrastructure (fine for Marines), some significant improvements are in order before the Air Force truly feels at home ;-)

I've also been thinking about how where our forces where stationed in the past, and where they'll likely be stationed in the future. I've been in the service for almost a decade, and in those ten years the late 90s-early 2000s included Germany, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, among others. The near future might include Iraq (again), Qatar (again), Guam (for the first time), and...Bulgaria?

Here's another piece that caught my eye a couple of weeks ago:

Washington Post May 16, 2006
U.S. Restores Full Diplomatic Ties With Libya
Move Sends a Signal To Iran, North Korea
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post Staff Writer

The United States restored full diplomatic relations with Libya yesterday, marking the end of a quarter-century of enmity and signaling to Iran and North Korea that similar rewards await countries that scrap their weapons of mass destruction.

Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi agreed to end his nation's nascent chemical and nuclear weapons programs in late 2003, capping years of talks between Tripoli and Washington over how Libya could end two decades of international isolation. Libya also took responsibility that year for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and agreed to pay as much as $10 million to the family of each of the 270 dead.

I also found a Libya-scuba diving connection.

Regardless of how Qadhafi reached the decision to reinstate diplomatic ties with the US, I see this event as a triumph of diplomacy: direct (and sometimes secret) talks with the faint threat of force in the distant background. Was the defeat of Saddam's regime in 2003 a factor? Maybe. Not surprisingly, many have seen Qadhafi's decision to end Libya's WMD programs as an indirect effect of the war in Iraq. The collapse of Saddam's regime had the opposite effect in Iran, where they have actually become more aggressive in their pursuit of WMD since 2003. The effects of the Iraq War should not be overstated; the truth is that Libya first articulated their interest in disarmament in the mid-1990s when it destroyed its chemical weapons plant in Tarhunah after successful negotiations with the Clinton Administration.

At some point, Qadhafi realized that re-establishing relations with the US was more beneficial to his regime than pursuing WMD. I think we also have to look at what elements Qadhafi perceived as a threat to his regime. The al Qaeda inspired and financed Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) attempted to assassinate Qadhafi in 1996; since then Libya has actually been at war against al Qaeda and associated movements and had offered cooperation to US officials in fighting al Qaeda cells in North Africa even before September 11, 2001. Qadhafi perceived Islamic extremists as a more ominous threat to his regime than the US or Israel, which are often perceived as one and the same in the Muslim Middle East. And above all else, Qadhafi wanted to stay in power through connectivity. And plugging yourself back to the US is perhaps the easiest way to achieve that enhanced connectivity, to go from dial-up to somewhere closer to wireless high-speed connection. In my opinion, the process should always be gradual, especially in the Middle East. Force-feeding connectivity is a dangerous proposition. Beyond the security aspect, there's also a financial aspect. A renewed connection with the US economy will probably benefit Libya's economy. It remains to be seen if Qadhafi will translate the renewed financial gains into benefits to the Libyan people. BTW, Libya also has oil. Maybe not a heavyweight compared to Saudi Arabia, but 3 million barrels a day - the estimated output once new technologies jump start Libya’s oil industry - would put Libya on par with Venezuela in terms of oil production.

This got me thinking; in terms of the instruments of national power - diplomatic, informational, military, economic (DIME) - in my opinion the Libya "operation" looks like this: "DImE"; while the Iraq operation (OIF) looks like this: "diMe".


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